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Sergio Marchionne’s UWindsor visit leaves impression on engineering students

When you meet with an executive at the helm of one the largest automakers in the world, you expect him to mainly talk shop.

At least that’s what a group of automotive engineering students expected when they had a chance to spend time with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne on Nov. 17 at the University of Windsor. Instead, Dr. Marchionne fondly recalled his days as a UWindsor business student and told the eager graduate students in the Windsor-Torino-FCA exchange program to slow down and enjoy this “intellectually stimulating” part of their lives.

“You need to be much wider. Experience as much as you can,” Dr. Marchionne said, stressing the importance of literature, philosophy and music. “Without them you’re dry.”

Marchionne met with a small group of engineering students during a tour of the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation after delivering a keynote at the annual UWindsor Georgie-Odette Leadership Symposium.

Benedetto Giubilato, a Sicilian student who has one year left in the UWindsor-Politecnico di Torino dual degree automotive master’s program, said he was interested in learning about Marchionne’s experience as a student.

“He said you have to build your character and you have to build it with many bricks — not just engineering,” Giubilato said. “I mean, if Sergio Marchionne told me, it means it works.”

Marchionne, a dual Canadian-Italian citizen, completed an MBA and a BCom at UWindsor. He is a barrister, solicitor and chartered accountant who majored in philosophy and also received an honorary Doctor of Laws from UWindsor.

“I spent the best years of my life at this school,” Marchionne said about his time on the UWindsor campus.

Marchionne began his professional career in 1983 at Deloitte & Touche. When Giubilato asked him how his life changed when he entered the workforce, the room erupted with laughter.

“Enjoy this place; I mean that sincerely,” Marchionne told them. “Make the best of it. You will remember this very fondly.”

In 2011, Marchionne helped establish the Windsor-Torino exchange program, a first-of-its-kind joint degree agreement that allows students to complete two master’s degrees from UWindsor and the Politecnico di Torino in Italy while contributing to cutting-edge research and development projects at FCA.

“The Torino program had a huge influence on my life,” said Ashley Lehman, who landed a job as a studio engineer at FCA US LLC headquarters in Auburn Hills after graduating. “When I was looking for a master’s program, I wanted to do something that was specifically paired with a real company because you get that actual experience.”

Completing part of the program in Italy helped too. Lehman said now, some of her best friends are fellow graduates. In addition to exploring Italy, Lehman said they ventured to Greece, Barcelona, London and even Dublin for a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Stefan Tojcic, who is months away from completing the program. “The opportunity you have when you work with such a big industrial partner is not only the resources available to you, but the people involved — people in multiple fields of engineering who have more than 20 years of experience. You can’t put a price on that.”

During his placements at FCA, Tojcic said he sharpened his communication skills and felt like he was contributing to “valuable work.”

As for his next career move, Tojcic said he’ll follow Marchionne’s lead.

“He made me realize that I’m rushing to finish,” Tojcic said. “I probably should slow down a little bit and enjoy it while it’s lasting.”